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Closterkeller Interview
By: Sam Grant
With: Anja Orthodox

Interview Info

By: Sam Grant
With: Anja Orthodox of Closterkeller

Paulina Maslanka of Delight (translator)
Also present:
Charlie Farrell - Promoter & Fan & Joanna Szyra - Metal Mind

Sam: The Dark Stars Tour has been going on for just over a week at the moment.

Anja: This is the 12th show.

Sam: Right. How has it been going for you so far?

Anja: For me it’s an excellent experience and an excellent adventure. I love it. On a tour like this I feel like a fish in the sea. I love it. For a long time I was nervous before a concert, but now I have forgotten that. For me, singing and playing in a concert is something very pleasurable. I’ve been doing it a very long time and this is the 16th year, and for many years it’s been only pleasure. I forget nervousness, I forget battles with instruments and with my voice.

Sam: You say this is your 16th year, so you’ve been together since what, 1988?

Anja: Yes.

Sam: So the main centre of Closterkeller has been around since 1988?

Anja: No, it is only me that has been around in Closterkeller since 1988.

Sam: I’ve read a lot of your interviews and in the past you’ve said that Closterkeller’s music doesn’t find it’s way out of Poland very often. Are there any experiences you’ve had that had prevented your music from going to other countries? Why do you think that Closterkeller’s music stays in Poland?

Anja: Because we have no connections. We know people in other bands who play often in Germany, in England and in Europe, but every time, the reason is they have a friend. If we have not, we can’t play.

Sam: I find that quite surprising. Have you played outside of Poland?

Anja: Yes, the most important was our gig in Wave Gotik Treffen last year. It was a very good concert, many people came to us and told us that we are excellent and that I’m a good singer. And after that, nothing. I sung in English. I can, I have English versions of the CDs.

Sam: You’ve also said that you feel your music would be better received outside of Poland.

Anja: Sometimes I think so, because in Poland right now there is no time for music like atmospheric rock. There’s no time for dark music. People in showbusiness, in commercial media, want to push only hip-hop and something I call ‘plastic rock’. Rock bands, you know, they find members, they give them music, lyrics. We have problems in radio, they don’t want to play our songs because when they look at a CD of Closterkeller they say, "Ah, it’s not possible to play this because we know this is hard Gothic Satanism" or something like this. Now we have a new CD. It is only an EP, but we have a cover of Michael Jackson/Earth Song. Many people, they don’t want to look on the cover, because it is not possible to play Closterkeller with normal music.

Sam: Why did you choose to cover Earth Song?

Anja: The only criterion for us when we choose songs for covers is art. It must be a song that is beautiful which takes us [motions] on the clouds… Michael Jackson was never my favourite, you understand why, it’s not my music. But this song is beautiful.

Sam: Is there something in the message behind that song that you connect with?

Anja: If I was to be honest I must tell you that the first thing was the music. About the text, I became interested in that afterwards. Before I sung it I wanted to know what it was about. It’s true that the lyrics are a little bit naïve, a little bit too simple.

Sam: They are very simple, but a lot of these very poppy songs have very simplistic lyrics. They have to, because a lot of people need the message to be simple and direct.

Anja: But the message is very big and important. It is an important problem and I can sing about it.

Sam: But is it something that you in particular have an interest in?

Anja: I’m not a fanatical ecologist, but for me this message is important because I am a thinking woman! I had other songs for covers, there was a song by Icehouse – Trojan Blue, beautiful text.

Sam: What’s that one about?

Anja: It’s very poetic. He’s singing about Helen Of Troy, about what she felt when she saw her town when it was ruined.

Sam: You said that now isn’t the right time for your kind of music to be accepted by a large commercial radio audience in Poland. Has there ever been a time for your band over the past 16 years where it’s been possible for that to happen, or has it always been the same way?

Anja: Yes, there was, there was. In the early 90s it was an excellent time for rock music in Poland. And at the time we released our third CD and we had big hits on the radio.

Sam: So what has changed? Why is that not the case anymore?

Anja: Showbusiness changed.

Sam: So it was something in the sound that Closterkeller were making?

Anja: No, it was a problem in showbusiness, social and political changes, after which came changes in the economy and then changes in musical showbusiness too. They didn’t want to have rock music, they thought that people want to buy pop music. Maybe there is something clever in this, but they made a mistake inasmuch as they didn’t make interesting pop music for people. They make rock music, which was good, but they didn’t make interesting pop music. What you hear on the radio is awful.

Sam: Do you see that changing any time soon?

Anja: I don’t know, I don’t want to think about it. I make music, it’s my thing to do. I have internet. When I want to I can find many internet radio [stations] with Gothic music. I hear it and I can say to our radios ‘fuck off’.

Sam: Since Graphite you’ve been doing English versions of your albums. Do you find singing in English to be an easy thing to do?

Anja: No! For me it’s something quite awful because Polish is my language. I can’t do something like many vocalists do – they sing in English – it’s awful English – and they don’t think about it. For me, I hear my mistakes and it hurts my ears!

Sam: Is that because you’re concentrating too much on the fact that you’re singing in English?

Anja: Yes, but my English is getting better and better and better when I sing. I feel it. I hear it. We have an English version of our second album, Blue, and third album, Violet. The third album was so awful that only I have the versions of the songs. It’s a big shame. But today when you hear me sing Earth Song, I am quite good! Because I learned it good.

Sam: Do you feel that the translation of your lyrics from Polish to English is accurate? Do you feel that it’s a good representation of your lyrics?

Anja: I understand the translations of the lyrics and sometimes I think they are better than my Polish!

Paulina: It’s not true! The Polish lyrics are better. Anja is a poet.

Anja: I found Christian, who is my translator, he is her [to Paulina] translator too.

Paulina: He did Anew, and he did Graphite…

Anja: And Nero, and he will translate the next CDs. He is a student of English in Krakow.

Paulina: He’s a young man, he’s 24, he is a big fan of Anja and when he does the translations he is so tired because she is so good – her lyrics are poetry – that he tried to –

Anja: Push mountains!

Paulina: Anja is a Polish rock poet. Her lyrics are wonderful.

Anja: But he is big too. He loves what he does, he loves to learn English. He’s crazy about English and now he’s learning Spanish. He knows French too.

Sam: How did you manage to get in contact with him?

Anja: How? By internet I think.

Paulina: He’s a fan of Anja’s.

Anja: He was a fan. I think through our discussion forum on our website, but I’m not sure.

Paulina: I know that he did some translations for you [to Anja] and that he sent them to you and you said ‘I want to take you because you are good’.

Sam: It’s a shame what you’re saying [to Paulina] about Anja’s lyrics being in Polish because it means that a lot of English people will never be able to appreciate them because we don’t understand Polish.

Anja: They must learn Polish! I think that the Polish language is the best language in the world. It’s very simple, very nice. I feel that it’s extremely simple.

Sam: From what you’ve seen of your Polish lyrics and the translation to the English lyrics, is the English a good reflection of the Polish that you’re writing?

Anja: I think so, I think so, because I look very deeply into the English versions. Christian has sat near me and translated from the Polish. He [explained] the translation from the Polish. They are very close to my text. Sometimes I read it and I see that they are so close and that they have rhymes. He’s really genial.

Sam: Now, all of your albums have colours as their names.

Anja: It’s my idea!

Sam: Why do they?

Anja: Because it’s nice.. and [speaks to Joanna in Polish]

Joanna: Because it’s a good metaphor between albums that are made in the studio..

Anja: For example, The Best Of or concerts or EPs, they are not colours. Maybe I am a poet, but I have a logical mind. I have a mathematical mind. I like it when things are logical and clever.

Sam: Which are your favourite songs and which are the ones you enjoy most performing?

Anja: There are many, but my favourites are the Gothic, hard, big, blackest. Those are my favourites. Silence In Her Home – I don’t know which songs you know –

Sam: I mostly know from Cyan onwards.

Anja: Silence In Her Home on Cyan, on Graphite The Piano, Marble-Enchanted, all Nero, because Nero is our CD which is the most mine.

Sam: Do you mean that you put the most writing into it or that the songs are the most personal?

Anja: No no, because every time my songs are personal. But Nero has this black climate, which I like. After Graphite I stayed alone because our main composers, Krzys and Paweł, left the band. I found Freddie and Pucek, but I was alone with the problem of the music. For me it was excellent because I could be the main person in Closterkeller who decides about the music. All at once I made the black CD, Nero, and on Nero my favourites are Nero, Watching As You Drown, Queen and Have You Seen. And I love our Cover on Reghina of A-Ha, Minor Earth, Major Sky. I love it. We will play it today. Do you know this song in original?

Sam: No. I know A-Ha as a band because I know The Living Daylights and Take On Me, They’re an 80s band aren’t they? They’re from Norway.

Anja: Yes, but about three or four years ago they came back with a new CD, Minor Earth, Major Sky. And the title song is so excellent, so beautiful, that we wanted to play it.

Sam: Over your 16 years in Closterkeller, what has been the most enjoyable thing about being in Closterkeller and what has been the most difficult thing?

Anja: The most enjoyable is that so many people love us and they feel us, they feel our music and my lyrics very truly. They drink us. They feel us forever. For me as an artist, as a creator, this is the most thing. I am extremely satisfied, like an artist, and the most difficult thing…[talks to Joanna in Polish]

Joanna: Show business doesn’t understand.

Anja: Because if it was another way, we could have money. All the people must have money to live. In this 16th year, I’m afraid that one day all this will break and [talks to Joanna]

Joanna: They will have to find another job.

Anja: This is a very expensive hobby. And we are major… adult people – you understand this problem! This is the most difficult problem, and connections in showbusiness. Art is third place. In first place is money, in second connections, you understand. This is much frustrating, but for our fans, we want to play.

Charlie: Who were your inspirations, which artists?

Anja: When I started to sing, I think that you can hear it, I learned on Siouxie. When we had a concert with Paradise Lost, the guitar man came to me and he asked me, “You like Siouxie, eh?” Siouxie was my first vocalist, and my second was Anja Huwe from X-Mal Deutschland.

Sam: I don’t know them.

Anja: You don’t know it?! It was an excellent group. From the mid 80s. When you hear it, you will understand that I learned on her because she had the same voice like me and when I wanted to start singing, I thought that the most comfortable way would be to sing like a girl who is similar to me. Anja Huwe and Siouxie. I love this coldwave from the 80s. This is my kind of music which I loved. I was punk, but after I was post-punk and coldwave. The Stranglers – I loved them. When I was a young girl I had all their CDs – analogue – LPs - and I would translate the lyrics. For me they are a very big thing in my life. I liked the Sex Pistols too. I love music which is beautiful, poetic and has, I don’t know.

Sam: Some bite to it.

Anja: Some bite to it. Not too much calm.

Sam: I think that the problem with chart music is that there is no bite to it. A lot of pop music, a lot of rock music.

Anja: People in radio stations are afraid that normal people, a woman who will cook and clean, will change the station [otherwise].

Sam: I don’t know if you know Brian Adams, he did a song called Everything I Do, I Do It For You. In the UK, that song was No. 1 for 16 weeks. The reason being, just as you’re saying, a lot of housewives, a lot of people confined to being at home all the time, they connected with it because the message was so simple. That’s the kind of stuff that’s popular and that’s the kind of stuff that sells because there’s a message there that everyone can relate to.

Anja: I know, but I want to make music like I make. I understand that 10 million people didn’t buy my CDs.

Sam: I’m not supporting the fact that music which is so basic in its lyrical content is so popular, but unfortunately that’s the way that things are.

Anja: Most of the people want only music for fun, they don’t want to find music which shakes them. Maybe it’s normal, but – my group and me – we make music for other people, for people more sensitive, who want to find something in music what makes their life more rich, that takes them up. I want to find music like this too. I make music for people like me.

Sam: The kind of people who Closterkeller are making music for are unfortunately in the minority. There are fewer of them. Are you working on a new album, and if so, what colour is it going to be?

Anja: Now we have a tour, after, I don’t know. I think that I will start will my musical project – my solo project. Maybe Closterkeller will make a CD with covers, but we must try.. [talks to Joanna]

Joanna: They will have to find out how they feel about covers.

Anja: If we think it is the right thing for us, we will make a big CD with covers. If not, we will make new songs and a new album. Which colour? I don’t know, but this is not the most important thing in this subject. For today, I wanted our next material to be beautiful. You understand?

Sam: Yes, but there are different forms of beauty.

Anja: Pure beautiful. For example, in Nero, I wanted the music to be black and Satanic. I have accents in my lyrics from that philosophy. In Graphite I wanted to make sad material. In Cyan I wanted to make poison. Our next CD, I want it to be beauty. But we have time. Maybe something will change in my life. We will see.

Charlie: I wondered whether you’d ever been invited to sing on somebody else’s album as a guest.

Anja: Sometimes, sometimes I do it.

Charlie: Polish artists?

Anja: Polish artists, because nobody knows me abroad.

Charlie: I say that because in the metal world there are a lot of these project albums where they use this guitarist from this band, and this singer, it’s a way to do something other than a solo project and it’s a good way of reaching an audience that wouldn’t normally listen to your music.

Anja: When somebody will propose me, and it is interesting, I will be very happy. In Poland, two years ago, I recorded a very interesting album with another group other than Closterkeller – Fun. They are rather progressive.

Sam: If you had the chance of working with another band or other musicians who you musically respect a great deal, who would they be?

Anja: Some years ago I thought about it and I thought about Manuella Rickers, she is the guitarist in X-Mal Deutschland. When I hear her, I thought she must have big balls! But now, I don’t know, I have never talked about it. I must think about it and I will tell you. Oh yeah! I have one band, but they are so perfect – Dimmu Borgir! I love Dimmu Borgir! They are perfect. I don’t see me there because they are perfect. Also Killing Joke. For me, the album of the century is Pandemonium. I am a fan of Paradise Lost/Symbol of Life, but better than this is One Second. I love [all their albums], well, not all, but most. And Dimmu Borgir. I like black music. Gothic too, for instance I love Arcana.

Sam: Really?

Anja: You know them?

Sam: I do!

Anja: They’re excellent.

Sam: I don’t imagine they’re the sort of band that would come across very well live.

Anja: Yeah, because this is music, er…

Sam: Atmospheric?

Anja: Yeah.

Charlie: Talking about atmospheric bands, do you like Anathema?

Anja: Anathema? Not very much. I know them, I heard some CDs of theirs, but for me they are too calm. I like some ‘devil’ in the music. Arcana I like because there is very much a Gothic climate.

Sam: This is going to be a difficult question for you to answer, but why would you say there is a Gothic Climate in that music and what exactly do you mean by that? What is a Gothic Climate?

Anja: Yes, what is Gothic?

Sam: This is a question that very few people can actually answer.

Anja: Yes, I have an excellent definition of Gothic, but first I must translate it. Gothic is a state of the human soul. You understand?

Sam: I do understand, but I’m trying to work out why it’s a state of the human soul.

Anja: Gothic is poetry. When you can find all the world around you and this works, it is inside you. Not everybody can feel it, not everybody can find it, but this is Gothic. Normal people think that Gothic is black hair, black hard boots. Not true.

Sam: Yeah, I understand, and that the general feeling about what Gothic is, is that it’s very dark and sometimes even perhaps a negative thing. The accepted, classical, definition of Gothic is that it is something lyrically and visually artistic and extravagant.

Anja: Which is good.

Sam: Which I think is good definitely. But that kind of puts a lot of people off.

Anja: That’s their problem. People who feel the Gothic Atmosphere are Goths. There is nothing to explain. You can either feel it or not. It’s the same like, for example, with the Metal climate/atmosphere – it’s the same - or punk too. Maybe hip-hop. Maybe, why not? Each man has his soul and if you [feel] the Gothic atmosphere, you are lucky, you are a winner. Because Goths are an elite.

Sonic Cathedral appreciates the opportunity to interview Closterkeller. Thanks to the band and all the hard working folks who made this interview possible.